Disbelief as Labour loses council stronghold

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Former mining engineer John Williams stared glumly at the almost entirely blue map in front of him. "It's a bit grim," he said.

Yesterday, as Labour suffered its greatest body blow in the election – losing its strongest county council to the Conservatives – the Derbyshire authority's newly deposed leader appeared inconsolable.

"It makes me really sick that through the 1980s and 1990s the bloody Tories couldn't take it. It is the sleaziness in a Labour government which has made the map that colour.

"Had the election been on 4 May, before any of this [MPs' expenses] had happened, we would have been home and dry with a big majority," the 63-year-old Labour leader said. He conceded he was relieved to hold on to his own seat.

As the Conservative champagne corks began popping at the Derbyshire town; old men wearing red rosettes stood hands in their pockets, heads cast down.

For this was Labour's heartland, a county where men who took opposing sides during the mining strikes of the 1980s still refuse to talk to each other; and speak with open loathing of the bitter divisions wrought by the last Conservative government.

Apart from a brief four year period in between 1977 and 1981, when the council went blue, it has always been true red.

Yet throughout yesterday, Labour found their 37-seat majority ebb away and, in a nail biting finale, the last count gave the conservatives a majority of 33 from their previous 15 seats.

Labour was reduced to 21 while the Liberal Democrats dropped two to eight.

For Walter Burrows, a former colliery official who has lived in the same bungalow most of his life, it was a betrayal of history.

"I am very, very angry. A lot of young people here weren't around in 1984. They don't know how Conservative governments treat working class people in this country.

"The miners' strike was a perfect example of how the Conservatives keep working class people down as low as they can get them," said the councillor, one of the few Labour members to actually increase his majority.

While insisting they still supported Gordon Brown, the Labour diehards laid the blame firmly at the feet of the MPs "who had their noses in the trough".

Barry Dyke, a sandwich factory worker and Labour supporter, said: "I hope this will send a message to central government to start thinking more about the electorate than lining their pockets."